Girls who give Sky high kicks: Owen Slot meets a team of dancers who have charmed their way through many a defence

ON MONDAY night, the football season ended for the Sky Strikers. The gyrating hips of these 14 young women have been providing pre-match and half-time entertainment for Sky Sports' Monday-night games since August. Their season's results make pretty good reading: played, 25; won, practically all of them; lost, one, to Arsenal.

The Arsenal crowd gave them a rough time. When the Strikers ran out at Highbury stadium on 28 September, the crowd booed; when they ran off, the crowd booed again. In between, when the girls were dancing, all spins and high kicks, there emanated from the stands the chant: 'Get your tits out for the boys.' That chant followed them round the country during the season.

At the Arsenal game, the Strikers, unwittingly, were wearing white with a touch of blue and yellow - pretty close to the strip of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal's arch rivals - and thus there came the volley of abuse usually reserved for Spurs fans: 'Yiddoes, Yiddoes'. The Arsenal fans went one better when the Strikers returned three months later, wearing white with a touch of red, pretty much Arsenal's own strip: their chant changed to, 'Are you Yiddoes in disguise?'.

In fact, several of the Strikers are. Tottenham fans, that is. Karen's father is Dave Butler, the Spurs physiotherapist; another of the girls, Wendy, is still being teased about her disappointment at the start of the season when the Strikers' appearance at White Hart Lane, Tottenham's ground, was cancelled due to bad weather; and then there is Debbie, Wendy's elder sister, who is captain of the team and married to their choreographer, Peyton Martin.

The Strikers are all professional dancers and take other assignments (dancing jobs, fashion shows, television commercials). They each make around pounds 200 per performance. The youngest is 18, the oldest 33.

Debbie is a calm leader of women. When she manages to make herself heard over her noisy pack, there is all-round agreement that they are generally oblivious to the sexist chants from the terraces, saying it goes straight over their heads. 'I don't mind the 'Get your tits out',' says Debbie. 'If I had them, I'd show 'em]' In fact, says Sandy, another of the more experienced dancers, they have a planned riposte up their sleeves: a routine where they would all wear fake chests and rip them off in the middle of a number.

Sandy's experience goes beyond the dancefloor: she trained as a stuntwoman, she can fence, baton-twirl and springboard-dive, and she sings on an independent record label based in south London.

At a Norwich game, Sandy spotted three girls swearing at her. As they became more hostile, the obscenities got worse. Eventually they ran down to the side of the pitch as if to make for her. At the last minute, security guards stepped in. But Sandy had momentarily faced a dilemma: should she run or stand her ground? What her would-be assailants didn't know was that Sandy was an accomplished martial artist and could have done them real damage.

With the possibility of such an extreme reaction from female fans, you can't help questioning whether dancing girls are quite the tonic required for the predominantly male English football audience. When the Strikers have danced in front of rugby league fans, the reaction has been noisy but polite. The London Monarchs' American football fans gave an enthusiastic reception to a similar show from their cheerleaders, the Crown Jewels, two of whom are now Sky Strikers. But football fans? They riot in Sweden and invade pitches in Manchester, and are unlikely to appreciate the difference between a demi-plie and a Demi Moore. The point, says Raymond Jaffe, who commissions the entertainment for Sky Sports, is to bring 'an entertainment angle that is different to the norm', to make matches an event rather than a 90-minute game of football. He has seen how it works in the United States and believes that this is the way to bring families into British football grounds.

Pop groups were tried unsuccessfully - the Shamen were booed at Arsenal, Curiosity were on to a loser at Southampton where they decided to play in Chelsea shirts - but the Strikers have been regulars all season. Mr Jaffe is convinced they are part of a formula that has seen Monday-night crowds on average 13 per cent up on the clubs' normal attendances. Some clubs have asked how they can organise similar entertainment on a regular basis. Sky Sports, meanwhile, has been fielding fan mail from seven-year-olds asking how they can become Sky Strikers.

On Monday afternoon, the Strikers were preparing for their Ipswich Town debut, in a game against Norwich. They were a little nervous, but confident. Northern crowds, Blackburn especially, have been their most appreciative, but Norwich is also a favourite: the reverse fixture, Norwich vs Ipswich in December, was one of their most successful, despite Sandy's experience.

The weekend had been spent learning new routines - they do three numbers, two new ones per match - and after nearly three days together (for the rest of the week they do whatever other work comes their way) there is still a lot of noise, a lot of laughter. Do their husbands and boyfriends mind them being booked up at weekends? 'Who cares?' says Suzanne. More laughter.

Suzanne is the joker of the pack, insisting that she is the biggest eater, and reminding everyone of their Christmas party when she asked Andy Gray, the Sky Sports football commentator and former Scotland international, if he'd played much football before. Again, peals of laughter, but none of the cattiness you might expect from a group together for so long. They are a united bunch; to a person, they believe that Chris Waddle should be playing for England. There is just the odd faint moan: from the Spurs fans about Arsenal's victory in the Coca-Cola Cup Final the previous day.

At 7pm it is time for the first number. There are still 45 minutes until kick-off but already there is something of a crowd, many of whom say they have come early for the pre- match entertainment. The dancing goes down well, especially with an impressive firework display behind it; then there is Bart Simpson, who brings the home supporters to their feet when he runs down the touchline holding up an Ipswich shirt, and the show is complete with the arrival of the Red Devils parachutists.

By the time their half-time session arrives, the girls are relaxed in the knowledge that the crowd is enjoying it - almost as responsive as Blackburn. The supporters sang through a lot of the dancing, but no breast requests today. The Strikers wouldn't have minded anyway.

(Photographs omitted)

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 Teacher

    £21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

    Java Developer - web services, XML and API

    £330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

    Maths Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

    Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style